In My Hands Today…

Wanderlust: The Amazing Ida Pfeiffer, the First Female Tourist – John van Wyhe

I found no one to accompany me, and was determined to do; so I trusted to fate, and went alone”.

In 1797 in Vienna, Ida Pfeiffer was born into a world that should have been too small for her dreams. The daughter of an Austrian merchant, she made clear from an early age that she would not be bound by convention, dressing in boys’ clothing and playing sports. After her tutor introduced her to stories of faraway lands, she became determined to see the world first-hand. This determination led to a lifetime of travel —much of it alone — and made her one of the most famous women of the nineteenth century.

Pfeiffer faced many obstacles, not least expectations of her gender. She was a typical nineteenth century housewife with a husband and two sons. She was not wealthy nor well connected. Yet after the death of her husband, and once her sons were grown and settled, at the age of forty-one she set off on her first journey, not telling anyone the true extent of her travel plans. Between that trip and her death in 1858, she would barely pause for breath, circling the globe twice—the first woman to do so—and publishing numerous popular books about her travels. Usually traveling solo, Pfeiffer faced storms at sea, trackless deserts, plague, malaria, earthquakes, robbers, murderers, and other risks.

In Wanderlust, John Van Wyhe tells Pfeiffer’s story, with generous excerpts from her published accounts, tell of her involvement with spies, international intrigue, and more. The result is a compelling portrait of the remarkable life of a pioneer unjustly forgotten.

Travel Bucket List: India – Tripura Part 1

India’s third-smallest state, Tripura lies in northeast India and is bordered by Bangladesh to the north, south, and west, and Assam and Mizoram to the east. Tripura is located in an isolated hilly region of the country, with various indigenous peoples, or tribes, accounting for a significant portion of the population. The area of modern Tripura which was ruled for several centuries by the Manikya Dynasty was part of an independent princely state under the protectorate of the British Empire. The independent Tripuri Kingdom, also known as Hill Tippera joined the newly independent India in 1949.

Tripura lies in a geographically isolated location in India, as only one major highway, the National Highway 8, connects it with the rest of the country. Five mountain ranges — Boromura, Atharamura, Longtharai, Shakhan and Jampui Hills — run north to south, with intervening valleys. Agartala, the capital, is located on a plain to the west. The state has a tropical savanna climate and receives seasonal heavy rains from the southwest monsoon.

Forests cover more than half of Tripura, in which bamboo and cane tracts are common. Tripura has the highest number of primate species found in any Indian state. Due to its geographical isolation, economic progress in the state is hindered with poverty and unemployment continuing to plague the state, which has a limited infrastructure. Most residents are involved in agriculture and allied activities, although the service sector is the largest contributor to the state’s gross domestic product. According to the 2011 census, Tripura is one of the most literate states in India, with a literacy rate of 87.75%.

The origin of Tripura’s name is still a matter of controversy among historians and researchers. According to the Rajmala, Tripura’s celebrated court chronicle, an ancient king named Tripur ruled over the territorial domain known as Tripura and the name of the kingdom was derived from his name. Many researchers explain the name Tripura from its etymological origin: the word is a compound of two separate words, tui which means water and pra which means near which in totality means near water. The geographical location of the state with its proximity to the vast water resources of eastern Bengal coupled with the generic identity of the state’s original inhabitants as Tipra or Twipra justify this explanation of the state’s name.

The early history of the kingdom of Tripura is a complex blend of history and mythology. According to the Rajmala, Tripura’s royal house trace their origin to the lunar dynasty, following in the footsteps of their counterparts in the Hindu royal houses of the rest of India who claim to have originated from the lunar or solar dynasties. The name Tripura is linked to the Hindu goddess Tripura Sundari, the presiding deity of the Tripura Sundari Temple at Udaipur, one of the 51 shakti peethas and to the legendary tyrant king Tripur, who reigned in the region. Tripur was the 39th descendant of Druhyu, who belonged to the lineage of Yayati, a king of the Lunar Dynasty.

The Indian epic, the Mahabharata; ancient religious texts, the Puranas; and the Edicts of Ashoka which are stone pillar inscriptions of the emperor Ashoka dating from the third century BCE, all mention Tripura. The Rajmala, a chronicle of Tripuri kings which was first written in the 15th century, provides a list of 179 kings, from antiquity up to Krishna Kishore Manikya who ruled between 1830 and 1850.

Tripura became a princely state during British rule in India. The Tripura kings had an estate in British India, known as the Tippera district or Chakla Roshnabad, now the Comilla district of Bangladesh, in addition to the independent area known as Hill Tippera, roughly corresponding to the present-day Tripura state. Udaipur, in south Tripura, was the capital of the kingdom, until King Krishna Manikya moved the capital to Old Agartala in the 18th century. It was moved to the new city of Agartala in the 19th century. Bir Chandra Manikya who ruled between 1862 and 1896 modelled his administration on the pattern of British India, and enacted reforms including the formation of the Agartala Municipal Corporation. Following India’s independence in 1947, Tippera district, the estate in the plains of British India, became the Comilla district of East Pakistan, and Hill Tippera remained under a regency council until 1949. The Maharani Regent of Tripura signed the Tripura Merger Agreement on 9 September 1949, making Tripura a Part C state of India. It became a Union Territory, without a legislature, in November 1956 and an elected ministry was installed in July 1963. It was conferred full statehood in 1971 by the North-Eastern Areas (Reorganisation) Act, 1971. The geographic partition that coincided with the independence of India resulted in major economic and infrastructural setbacks for the state, as road transport between the state and the major cities of the newly-independent India had to follow a more circuitous route, around East Pakistan. The road distance between Kolkata and Agartala before the partition was less than 350 km or 220 miles, and increased to 1,700 km or 1,100 miles, as the route now avoided East Pakistan. The geopolitical isolation was aggravated by an absence of rail transport.  

After the partition, many Bengali Hindus migrated to Tripura as refugees fleeing religious persecution in Muslim-majority East Pakistan, especially after 1949. Parts of the state were shelled by the Pakistan Army during the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. Following the war, the Indian government reorganised the North East region to ensure effective control of the international borders with three new states coming into existence on 21 January 1972 – Meghalaya, Manipur, and Tripura. Pre-independence, most of Tripura’s population was indigenous, but the migrations by Bengali Hindus led to scattered violence, and an insurgency spanning decades, including occasional massacres such as the 1980 Mandai massacre. This gradually abated following the establishment of a tribal autonomous district council and the use of strategic counter-insurgency operations.

Tripura is characterised by hill ranges, valleys and plains. The state has five anticlinal ranges of hills running north to south, from Boromura in the west, through Atharamura, Longtharai and Shakhan, to the Jampui Hills in the east. At an altitude of 939 m, Betling Shib in the Jampui range is the state’s highest point. The small isolated hillocks interspersed throughout the state are known as tillas, and the narrow fertile alluvial valleys, mostly present in the west, are called Doóng or lungas. Several rivers originate in the hills of Tripura and flow into Bangladesh with the Khowai, Dhalai, Manu, Juri and Longai flowing towards the north; the Gumti to the west; and the Muhuri and Feni to the south-west. Tripura is predominantly rural with the highest densities of the rural population found in the state’s most fertile agricultural lands, located in the western plain and the Gumti, Dharmanagar, and Khowai valleys. Rice is the major crop in Tripura and accounts for 91 percent of the land under cultivation. Towns are concentrated on the western plain and the state capital of Agartala is the largest city. Most of the population, adhering to Hinduism and speaking Bengali, shares the broader cultural traditions of India, while the Muslim minority is closer in culture to Bangladesh. The traditions of the tribal peoples also are important elements of Tripura’s cultural life, with each community possessing its festivals, folklore, music, and dance. Pisciculture has made significant advances in the state and Rubber and tea are important cash crops. Tripura ranks second to Kerala in the production of natural rubber in the country. The state is known for its handicraft, particularly hand-woven cotton fabric, wood carvings, and bamboo products.

The Tripura Hills, by way of the Mizo Hills of Mizoram state on the east, form a low western extension of the Purvachal, a strategically located highland region fronting the border with Myanmar. The region belongs to the Assam-Burma geologic province, an unstable seismic zone crisscrossed by several faults and extending into Myanmar. The hills are a series of parallel north-south folds, decreasing in elevation to the south until they merge into the greater Ganges-Brahmaputra lowlands, also called the Eastern Plains. Each successive ridge of hills to the east rises higher than the one before; the low Deotamura Range is followed by the Artharamura, Langtarai, and Sakhan Tlang ranges. The Jamrai Tlang Mountains, 46 miles (74 km) in length, have the highest peak, Betling Sib (3,280 feet [1,000 metres]).

Two of Tripura’s largest festivals are the Kharchi Puja and the Garia. The Kharchi Puja, also known as the Festival of the 14 Gods, has its origins in tribal tradition but is now a major temple festival celebrated within a predominantly Hindu framework by both tribal and nontribal peoples. It takes place in Agartala every July and honours the deities and the Earth. The Garia celebration is a prominent festival of the indigenous population and is associated particularly with the Tripuri people. Garia is held each April following the planting of the fields to pray for a successful agricultural year.

In My Hands Today…

Three Quarters Of A Footprint: Travels In South India – Joe Roberts

For five months Joe Roberts was a guest of the Trivedi family in their flat in Bangalore’s Baghpur Extension.

Major Trivedi, a military Brahmin, was given to reciting quatrains of Nostradamus; Atul, his 18-year-old son, was more concerned with Guns n’ Roses; while Mrs Trivedi, with her neighbour Mrs Sen, took charge of her visitor’s plans for travelling around Southern India.

Roberts journeyed to the jungle beyond Mysore – a jungle that, contrary to expectations, was only little trees and dappled glades; to the queen of the hill stations, Ootacamund, to which generations of English colonial officers had retreated, transforming an Indian plateau into a passable imitation of Bournemouth; and to Kovalam, which he visited in order to see the Kathakali dancers, but where he also found himself dining with an Australian pornographer. And he also travelled to Cochin, on the Malabar Coast, and shared a railway compartment with a drunken Bristolian who seemed unimpressed with everything but Indian moonshine.

But Roberts always returned to the ground-floor flat in Baghpur Extension, and to his friends the Trivedis. This is his account of his travels.

In My Hands Today…

Prisoners of Geography: Ten Maps That Tell You Everything You Need to Know About Global Politics – Tim Marshall

All leaders of nations are constrained by geography. Their choices are limited by mountains, rivers, seas, and concrete. To understand world events, news organizations and other authorities often focus on people, ideas, and political movements, but without geography, we never have the full picture.

Now, seasoned journalist Tim Marshall examines Russia, China, the USA, Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Europe, Japan and Korea, and Greenland and the Arctic — their weather, seas, mountains, rivers, deserts, and borders — to provide a context often missing from our political reportage: how the physical characteristics of these countries affect their strengths and vulnerabilities and the decisions made by their leaders.

In ten, up-to-date maps of each region, Marshall explains in clear and engaging prose the complex geo-political strategies of these key parts of the globe. What does it mean that Russia must have a navy, but also has frozen ports six months a year? How does this affect Putin’s treatment of Ukraine? How is China’s future constrained by its geography? Why will Europe never be united? Why will America never be invaded? Shining a light on the unavoidable physical realities that shape all of our aspirations and endeavors, Prisoners of Geography is the critical guide to one of the major (and most often overlooked) determining factors in world history.

In My Hands Today…

Hot Tea Across India – Rishad Saam Mehta

On Rishad Saam Mehta’s journeys — and as a travel writer and all-round road-trip junkie, he’s been on many — there’s a particular thing he noticed. There’s not a highway, road or dirt track in India where you can’t find a cup of chai whenever you want it.

And with those cuppas come encounters and incidents that make travelling in India a fascinating adventure. In this riveting book, which includes stories of honey- and saffron-infused tea shared with a shepherd in Kashmir, and a strong brew that revives the author after almost getting lynched by an irate mob in Kerala, Rishad takes you across the length and breadth of India, from Manali to Munnar, from the Rann of Kutch to Khajuraho, with a wonderful combination of wit, sensitivity and insight.